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[TR] Mt. Baker - North Ridge (Attempt) 8/19/2012


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Trip: Mt. Baker - North Ridge (Attempt)


Date: 8/19/2012


Trip Report:


Click for a larger picture. Cecil solo ice climbing in the lower Coleman Glacier icefall at midnight. We spent a couple hours in here, listening to seracs settle and collapse, rocks fall, and water flow and drain. See below for a wide shot of this location.


Saturday we set out to climb Baker's famous North Ridge route with its massive ice cliff. The plan was to camp near the lower Coleman icefall, sharpen our ice climbing skills, then meet up with Alin the next day to cross the torn-up Coleman to get on some steep stuff. This was technically the 3rd attempt for Alin and I, although I don't really count the first attempt where a team member's crampon malfunction ended the climb before it even began. Read about that here, and about the "real" first attempt here.


Playing around in the lower icefall at night was a unique experience for me. We ended up camping on a rock area near the glacial border that turned out to be a giant, solid ice block covered in rock/dirt. It was relatively out of the way of other rocks and seracs, but the whole thing could've moved at any time. I probably won't do that again, but it allowed me close proximity to the motion-controlled time-lapse I had setup deeper inside the icefall. Thankfully by the next morning nothing had yet collapsed on my gear, which spent all night beneath some tenuous structures. 


The next day we climbed up to about 6,000ft past some gorgeous terrain filled with wildflowers and waterfalls. We setup camp next to a stream overlooking the valley near some large moats and crevasses. After taking a nap, Alin arrived and some route reconnaissance got underway . The Coleman looked extremely broken up in places, and the path to take the North Ridge looked uncertain. I used my telephoto lens to try and find a way through a couple of the worst sections. It looked iffy, but probably doable, so that meant we were gonna try it.


We slept in a bit later as some light would be necessary to actually find our way through the maze of crevasses on the glacier. Cecil did a solid job of navigating through some of most difficult sections. A couple spots involved jumping to thin ice bridges from already melting platforms. I probably wouldn't have done it if I was leading, so props to Cecil for braving these sections, some of which involved some serious leaps to tenuous landings. 


As we approached the ridge's typical early-season paths, we found they looked extremely steep and exposed to rockfall and gaping, rock edge-to-rock edge crevasses and moats. We opted to go low and around the corner to where we had taken the ridge in mid-May. After finally getting up over some large crevassed hills to get a clear view, Alin and I did not recognize anything. Compared to what we saw in June, it looked like someone had taken a billion tons of dynamite (yes exactly "a billion") and set it off everywhere up this side of the mountain. Massive seracs toppled over one another and left gaping holes in between. A huge piece of the ice cliff had broken off on the left side, and what remained of the left was overhanging ice above. The right side looked vertical with an insane looking rock base and crevasses protecting it. We saw a potential path far left, but navigating up near the ice cliff was the first obstacle. There were two potential paths, one left, and one right that traversed back left. From our vantage point we couldn't see if either were doable, so we climbed to about 8,600 feet only to realize neither would go. All paths were cut-off by huge gaps between some of the largest pieces of broken ice I've seen. 


After realizing we would need to turn-around, we took some pics and were off back down the 45 degree slope we'd climbed that put us deep in the mess of seracs. None of us felt bad because the trip so far had already been so much fun. I had not yet climbed seracs in an icefall at night or navigated through such ridiculously broken-up terrain. 


Looking at the pictures now I can see that the ice cliff looks doable if you can get up to it. I think a really strong team willing to take on more risk than I could do it. Taking the ridge on the lower part was just a bit too much. It's extremely steep and just under an active rockfall area with a huge crevasse waiting for you at every possible fall point. Plus it's not clear what's these alternate entry points, so you'd be fully committed. Strong, experienced climbers I'd love to hear your thoughts (see the bottom of this entry for high-res route pics). If our party would've found a path through the upper icefall area, however, and taken a closer look at the ice cliff, I think we would've stood a chance, especially with Cecil on lead for the cliff proper. 



Click for a larger picture. Scouting the terrain we'd need to cross to get to the North Ridge. We're forced to turn around here for obvious reasons. Above this icefall was a clear, albeit heavily crevassed path to the chaos below we'd cross in the morning.



One of the most broken-up sections on the lower Coleman. We had to jump a a couple of sections from thin ice protrusions to tenuous landings, some on other thin ice protrusions. Some sections were shallow here, others disappeared into black holes. 



We found this glacial Anvil just below the North Ridge. On the way back we spent a lot of time here consoling our failed attempt with some tomfoolery and ballyhoo (pardon the language). Video still.



Long-shot of the lower Coleman icefall. I ran up here as quickly as possible to show the scale of this place with Cecil still climbing inside. We camped on the border of this thing on a rocky area which turned out to be a giant cracked serac with rocks on it. Don't try this yourself.



Our camp at about 6,000 feet. We had a stream of running water right next to us. flowing through perfectly carved out rock. Immediately behind us was the crevassed Coleman glacier. Flowers, low-flowing clouds...yeah probably the best campsite I've used yet. 



Alin before dawn contemplating snow bridges and bottomless crevasses.



Ice climbing by starlight (no moon this weekend).



After packing up our camp (down next to the icefall on the left), we head up past wildflowers and waterfalls towards our second camp. Cecil contemplates Mt. Baker's impressive terrain. 



A closer look at the ice cliff which is at about 9,000 feet. If could get across the incision on the right, the cliff looks doable by climbing up the left side of the arete, then either taking the ramp on the left or just climbing straight up hugging the left of the arete. We could not find a suitable path up to the cliff. 



Dignity in defeat. Also yes the cover art for our upcoming album of ice tools being played on seracs of differing thicknesses. And by ice tools I mean dead chicken carcasses. And by dead chicken carcasses I mean string cheese.


More pictures: For even more pictures from this climb go here.


Climbers: For high-resolution route pics click here, and for a closer look at the where the green arrow points in the first pic (it's a whole different world behind that rock), click here. Once we got closer to the red arrow locations, they looked less and less doable, although they look promising here  (at least the left variation sort of does).


Time-lapses: I took two time-lapses on this climb. One inside the ice fall on the lower Coleman Glacier at night, the other at our camp of the sun setting. They will become a part of my Untitled Time-lapse Project which I hope to release later this year.


Gear Notes:

Brought six screws, a picket each (3).


Approach Notes:

Lots o' crevasses. One pretty nasty creek/river crossing.

Edited by lukeh
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Update 8/25/2012: I just compared GPS data from both attempts this year. It looks like we hadn't exactly visited the icefall area in May (it would've been on our left after we took the lower part of the ridge). In May more of the North Ridge rock was covered in snow and we ascended left of the large crevasse guarding the base of the steeper, western section of the ridge. In hindsight we should've tried to taken the steeper section on the east of the ridge, then taken the snow gully up the south-western piece which looked doable.



Edited by lukeh
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